Ahead of Presidential polls: Govt. troubled by US-funded project
The government would investigate local NGOs involved in an unprecedented US project meant to influence the electorate ahead of national level elections next year, a senior government spokesman said yesterday.
The official alleged that the US was planning to fund those who have been opposed to SLFP-led coalition, in accordance with an overall plan to undermine the government.
Asked whether the government would take it up with the US embassy, the official said that it was in the process of gathering information. The USAID was looking for local NGOs to implement a project called ‘Election Support through Voter Education (ESVE) programme which was nothing but a ruse to turn people against the government, the official said. Calling the US project ‘Operation Regime Change’, the official said that it had been brought to the notice of the Defence as well as External Affairs Ministries.
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told The Island that the ESVE was yet another project aimed at weakening the government in the run-up to the next election. Acknowledging the possibility of President Mahinda Rajapaksa calling presidential polls next year, the Defence Secretary said that some foreign powers were evidently trying to prop up the opposition.
The Defence Secretary said that Sri Lankans had voted at many elections since Independence from the British, and how the US was now planning to teach them of their role and responsibilities. The outspoken official said that local NGOs had collected millions of rupees from various embassies over the years for election monitoring process and campaigning for violence-free polls.
Now, the US wanted our NGOs to go a step further, the Defence Secretary said, adding that the project would be closely monitored.
The government placed all NGOs under Defence Ministry purview to prevent various funding agencies from using them as tools to destabilize the country as it was done in many other countries. The government has accused some NGOs of collaborating with the LTTE.
Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that an urgent inquiry was need to ascertain the amount of funds received by major NGOs since the signing of the Norwegian-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) on February 21, 2002. Most of those major recipients of foreign funding had been involved in activities inimical to national security as well as economic interests, the Defence Secretary said. Responding to a query, the Defence Secretary pointed out that as the Norwegians had revealed the beneficiaries of their funding, other countries too, could reveal the funds made available to local NGOs.
The Defence Secretary said that those wanting to teach the electorate how to behave remained mum when the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on behalf of the LTTE declared during the second week of November 2005 that Tamil speaking people shouldn’t exercise their franchise at the November 17, 2005 presidential polls. They also turned a blind eye to a damning EU report that dealt with LTTE-TNA nexus at the Dec 2001 parliamentary polls, the Defence Secretary said.
Asked whether investigations into NGO activity would further antagonize donors, the Defence Secretary said that Sri Lanka wasn’t the only country to investigate NGOs. Referring to recent Indian media reports concerning an investigation undertaken by the Intelligence Bureau there , the Defence Secretary emphasized donors couldn’t challenge the right of governments to place NGOs under scrutiny.
By Shamindra Ferdinando